Twelve Excuses Writers Make (and How to Overcome Them)
What are your excuses for not writing?
I’m sure they’re good ones, because I have plenty of good excuses, too! And I don’t want you to think I’m being dismissive or unkind about your excuses – our reasons for not writing are generally based on real difficulties, or real fears.
So if you’ve used any of the excuses on this list, please don’t feel attacked in any way. All of them are – to some extent – valid. But they can also be overcome.
Excuse #1: “I Don’t Have Enough Time”
This is probably the number one excuse for not writing – and for most writers, it’s a very understandable one. We lead busy lives: I know writers with full time jobs and long commutes, and writers with several small children to take care of. Even writers who are retired might be volunteering, caring for grandchildren part-time, or looking after an ill or disabled spouse.
Overcome it: Most of us have some time we could use for writing. It might mean making some hard decisions (like setting aside another hobby for the time being) or it might mean getting other people on board (like asking your spouse, or another family member, to do more of the childcare). It might well mean getting into a consistent writing routine, so that the little time you do have is used well.
Excuse #2: “I’m Not Good Enough”
I hear this a lot, too – not always stated explicitly. I think almost every writer has this fear to some extent: that we’re just not good enough. Even after ten years freelancing and lots of lovely comments from editors, I still worry that I’m somehow lacking! For newer writers, this is an excuse that can lead to taking course after course, reading book after book … and writing very little.
Overcome it: However good (or not) you are at writing, the way to improve is to write! Remember, you are absolutely entitled to write because you enjoy it – you don’t have to reach a magical level of skill in order to be “allowed” to spend your time writing. Take the plunge and share your work with others, too: maybe a local writing group or a writer friend. Ask them to share what they liked or what was working well in your piece – this can be a wonderful confidence boost!
Excuse #3: “I’m Not Educated Enough”
This crops up for some writers: maybe they left school at 16, or they think that writers need a university degree or a special qualification. (Spoiler alert: it really doesn’t!) Of course, good writing does require a grasp of fundamentals like sentence structure and grammar … but if you’re a keen reader (and most writers are!), you’ve almost certainly picked these up over the years without any formal education about them.
Overcome it: I’m in the lucky position of having quite a writerly educational background: I studied English at Cambridge University, and took a Masters degree in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths College (part of the University of London). While the Masters was certainly helpful, the key benefit from that was having feedback from my peers and my tutors on my work-in-progress – something you could easily replicate with a local writing group (free/cheap) and mentoring/coaching (potentially quite costly, but far cheaper than a Masters degree). In terms of my freelancing, all my clients care about is how well I write – most of them don’t even know about my degrees!
Excuse #4: “I’m Too Young”
This is an excuse I do understand, because I started writing – with fairly serious intent – when I was fourteen. I still have the novel I wrote (in a notebook with a frog on the cover) back then. If you’re under 18, and particularly if you’re under 16, there is some validity to this excuse: you may well be ineligible for most writing competitions, for instance.
Overcome it: Being young is no reason not to write! Some young writers are exceptionally talented – even if you aren’t (I wasn’t!), by starting young, you’ll have got in some invaluable practice before you hit your 20s. Look for local writing groups or classes – many will welcome you (I joined one at 14, along with my mum, who’s also a writer, and they were lovely and a huge part of my growth as a writer).
Excuse #5: “I’m Too Old”
Now that I’m approaching my mid-30s (yikes), I’m starting to understand this excuse a little more. I realise that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m still relatively young! But I’ve also seen plenty of writers become very successful in their 20s and it’s hard not to feel a little twinge of envy … plus a sense that time is rapidly ticking away. I know that many writers come to writing at a later season of their life – often after their children are grown, or once they retire – and I know age can feel like a real difficulty then.
Overcome it: While the media often focuses on young talent, there are plenty of writers who started their careers later in life. There’s a good list here. However old you are, it’s never too late. Editors (and readers) won’t care about your age – just about the quality of your writing.
Excuse #6: “I Don’t Have Any Support”
This is a difficult one, because writers do need support from the people around them – or at the very least, they need a lack of hostility and opposition. While non-writing family members and friends probably won’t “get” writing, it’s not too much to expect them to support you. (I don’t mean that, say, your spouse should work 60 hour weeks so you can take two years off to write a novel. I mean that they should be willing – and hopefully keen! – to help you have a few hours each week to write.)
Overcome it: Find writers who can support you – maybe through an online group, if you can’t easily get to a local writers’ group. With family members, be direct about what you need (e.g. “could you take the kids on Saturday mornings till 9am so I can get up early and write for a couple of hours?”) For some great suggestions for a particular writer who had difficulties getting her family to respect her writing time, check out this post on the Captain Awkward blog.
Excuse #7: “I Never Finish Anything”
Well … this isn’t an excuse so much as a reason why you’re not seeing as much success as you’d like to! In the early stages of my writing career, I told myself that I was just the sort of person who “starts things and doesn’t finish them”. Years on, I can see that most of us are like that to some degree – it’s normal for initial enthusiasm about a project to wane, and it’s normal to try things that don’t quite pan out.
Overcome it: Finish something! With old projects, either decide to complete them to the best of your ability – or let them go completely. Treat them as useful practice. If you want to start something new, make it something small, and don’t start anything else until you’ve finished it.
Excuse #8: “I Hate Marketing”
I’ve heard this from quite a lot of writers, both those thinking of aiming for traditional publication and those aiming to self-publish. There really aren’t any writers who “just write” – even if you have a publishing deal, you’ll need to do a lot of marketing work, though you may well have some help from your publisher’s team.
Overcome it: The great thing about marketing is there’s no one “right” way to do it. There are lots of activities you could try: writing a free book to give away, blogging to build an audience, writing guest posts for other people’s blogs, paying for advertising through sites like BookBub, or paying for Facebook or Amazon ads. If the options are making your head spin a bit, Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book is a handy guide to the various possibilities.
Excuse #9: “I Need to Wait Until…”
Many writers (including me) find themselves putting off writing until after some particular event or stage of life is over. “In the new year…” or “Once the kids start school…” or “When I retire…” are all popular ones. Sometimes, life really is too hectic and draining to contemplate writing – but often, waiting until “X” happens can be a bit of an excuse.
Overcome it: If you enjoy writing, make it happen! You might have to write in very short bursts (a few years ago now, I wrote about how I was writing fiction in two 15-minute slots each day) – but any writing is better than no writing. Look for ways to fit in some writing, even if that means juggling around a few other things.
Excuse #10: “I’ll Never Be As Good As…”
This can be a difficult excuse to overcome. Perhaps there’s a writer who you really admire – maybe someone whose books you’ve been reading since childhood, or maybe someone who’s a personal friend. They’re just so good, and you can’t imagine ever writing anything as good as their books.
Overcome it: This feeling itself is a sign that they’re on the right path! If you can recognise good writing – and also see that yours doesn’t yet match up to the ideal – then you’re far further along than a new writer who has no idea what makes a piece well written or badly written. Another key thing to remember is that “good” is very much in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps you’ll never have Famous Writer’s vivid imagination, or their clever literary style … but you might be better at crafting plots and writing stories for a mass market.
Excuse #11: “I Don’t Know How”
This isn’t always an excuse that writers voice out loud, but it’s often an underlying reason for not writing. (“I couldn’t write a novel, I don’t know how!”) It can go hand-in-hand with worries about a lack of education, or with a sense that “other writers” somehow mysteriously know how to write without ever reading a book or taking a course.
Overcome it: If there’s a particular area of writing that you’d like to try … find out how to do it! There are so many beginner-friendly courses, books and blog posts out there that can help. The same goes for any non-writing tasks that you don’t know how to do (like setting up a website for your writing, or self-publishing your novel on Amazon).
Excuse #12: “I’m Not Well Enough”
I want to tread very cautiously with this last excuse, because it has a great deal of validity – and for some writers, it sadly really is a reason for being unable to write. I’m lucky enough to be in robust good health – the closest I’ve come to experiencing any sort of long-term illness is during my pregnancies, where I was flat-out exhausted for the first trimester or so.
Overcome it: If you’re too unwell to write, then please don’t pressure yourself to do so. However, if writing would be helpful for you – whether as a diversion, a form of therapy, or simply something you can be glad to have accomplished – then it’s worth looking for ways to do at least a little of it. That might mean lowering your expectations (especially if you used to write before you were unwell), or looking for equipment or software that could make it easier – e.g. a laptop stand so you can type lying down in bed, or dictation software if you can’t comfortably type.
We all have excuses for not writing, or not writing as much as we could … at least, I definitely do! The truth is, writing is hard: it can be a lot of work, it can be emotionally draining, and it can be bound up with so many hopes and fears that it’s almost inevitable we find excuses not to do it. I hope today’s post has helped you think about some of your own excuses – and about whether you can overcome them, even in a small way.
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I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
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